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A tiny Indian publisher is translating hidden gems of world literature for global readers

(From Quartz India. Link to the complete article given below)

“It isn’t about size. Or the scale. It is about the choice. The instinct that allows you to take the risk to step outside the structures the world of corporate publishing has so magnificently set up. And publish books that in your opinion need to be read.”

The mission statement of Seagull Books says it all: This is not your usual Indian publisher.

Founded in 1982, the Kolkata-based company publishes everything from literary fiction and poetry to philosophy and even cultural anthropology. But these books aren’t what you’d find on the catalogues of publishing giants such as HarperCollins or Penguin Random House. At Seagull Books, the focus is on translated writing from around the world, much of which has never before appeared in English, in India or anywhere else.

“We publish anything and everything to do with what I like to call ‘the human condition,’” founder Naveen Kishore told Quartz. “It is in many ways a wish-list of books we want to publish. Not dictated by trends or the marketplace or target readers.”

And that’s a far cry from the norms in India’s publishing business, which is estimated to be worth $6.76 billion, according to Nielsen. Though the sector is poised to grow at a compounded annual rate of over 19% until 2020, far above the global rate, it is overwhelmingly dominated by educational books. As a result, the massive success of commercial fiction writers, such as Chetan Bhagat, has prompted most publishers to focus more on cookie-cutter stories that sell well. And in this quest for bestsellers, original and unconventional writing has been pushed to the sidelines.

Read more at the Quartz India link here

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The Bookstore That Brought Together Urdu’s Literary Greats

(From The Wire. Link to the interview given below)

For 88-year old Shahid Ali Khan, Urdu literature has been a lifelong passion. His journey with Maktaba Jamia, a publishing house and bookstore, took him from Delhi to Mumbai in 1957, where he befriended renowned Urdu writers and poets like Sahir Ludhianvi, Jan Nisar Akhtar, Meena Kumari and Jagan Nath Azad.

Now running his own small publishing house called ‘Nai Kitab’, which is tucked away in a quiet lane in Delhi’s Jamia Nagar, Khan takes us down memory lane and talks about his contributions to Urdu.

Watch the video at The Wire link here


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The very hungry caterpillar lied to you as a child

(From Atlas Obscura. Link to the complete article given below)

Do children’s books need to be fact-checked to make them more true to nature?

Think of the best scene from your favorite children’s book. Easy, right? The Very Hungry Caterpillar emerges from his cocoon, now a beautiful butterfly that takes up two whole pages. Sal and the Mama Bear run into each other in the blueberry patch. The rascally mouse gets yet another cookie.

There’s a reason this particular page stuck in your mind. Maybe it surprised you, or taught you a lesson, or made you laugh. But have you ever wondered if it’s accurate?

Yes, children’s books are bastions of fantasy, the rightful homes of dragons and magic crayons and talking cheese. But as kids spend less time outdoors, and more time learning about nature through screens, some experts are taking a closer look at how well the lessons translate. The answer is often a resounding “Needs Improvement.” And fixing up picture books—those colorful gateway drugs to further education—might be a good first step.

Depending on who you ask, there’s a lot to be done, and some scientists have been holding grudges for decades. “When I was working with an entomologist on an insect book, he said that one of his pet peeves is that the editor for Eric Carle’s book about the hungry caterpillar did not vet it [with an expert],” says Donna German, General Manager at Arbordale Publishing. “He cringes to think at how many people, kids and adults, think that butterflies emerge from cocoons because of this one book.” (Butterflies instead come out of chrysalises.)

Read more at this Atlas Obscura link


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Authors from the Arab world: Translator recommendations

(From Publishing Perspectives. Link to the complete article given below)

At a recent seminar in New York City on Arabic literature in translation, several literary translators recommended Arabic authors they’d like to see published in English.

t last week’s Seminar on Arabic Literature in Translation, questions from the audience and discussions during the reception afterward revealed enthusiasm among the US publishers, agents, scouts, and others about getting to know Arabic authors and the literary scene in the Arab world.

The seminar was co-organized by the Frankfurt Book Fair New York, Publishing Perspectives, and the Sheikh Zayed Book Award.

“A lot of books that I’ve come to publish, I’ve heard about in a forum like this,” said John Siciliano, executive editor of Penguin Books and Penguin Classics, who was a speaker on the seminar’s panel discussion.

One audience member asked the panel to recommend Arabic authors to the publishers in the room, authors they felt should to be translated and published in English. Among the recommendations were several books that the translators have decided to start working on–even without an English-language publisher lined up yet.

To that end, we’ve put together a list of the books that were recommended by the panelists as well as some insights about publishing Arabic literature in translation.

Alex Elinson: Moroccan Authors

“I’m working on a book that I feel very strongly about,” said Alex Elinson, translator and associate professor Arabic at Hunter College. Elinson is in the process of translating Hot Maroc by Yassin Adnan into English.

The book was longlisted for the 2017 International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF). It’s Adnan’s first novel, published by Dar al-Ain in Cairo.Adnan’s first novel, published by Dar al-Ain in Cairo.

Read more at this Publishing Perspectives link


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The surprising practice of binding old books with scraps of even older books

(From Atlas Obscura. Link to the complete article given below)

From the earliest days of bookmaking, binders made use of scraps. Sometimes, it was just mundane material: leases or contracts that had expired or been rendered moot by a scribe’s mistake. In other cases, the bindings illustrate some seismic cultural shift. In these instances, the materials indicate to modern scholars what was important to the people assembling books—or, conversely, what had little or no value to them.

After the Reformation, for example, when Catholicism gave way to Protestantism in Britain, monastic libraries were dissolved and centuries’ worth of manuscripts were suddenly homeless and largely unwanted. This made them “available to a burgeoning print trade,” Heffernan says, “and they could be torn up into strips, or wrapped whole around books.” The change of faith sapped the Catholic materials’ “value as documents to be read,” she says. But their value as raw material—such as vellum, made from animal skin—remained.

Stumbling across one of these hybrid items now feels kind of magical—as if geography and time have collapsed into your hands. But repurposing scraps in this way wasn’t at all unusual at the time, and Heffernan suspects that it wouldn’t have made much of a difference to readers. “To us, the manuscripts that have been wrapped around books are signs of destruction,” Heffernan says. But to early modern readers, slicing and dicing a text was just a strategy for taking care of other, more coveted objects—like wrapping a textbook in brown paper today. Oversized choir books, which could be twice as tall as a folio, went a long way: “Not quite half a cow,” Schmidt says, “but still a substantial piece of leather.” It was simple practicality. “It’s a moment of typical practice for 16th- and 17th-century bookbinders that seems utterly, delightfully weird to us,” Heffernan says.

Read more at this link from Atlas Obscura


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Who will buy your book?

1.
“Nobody else is here,” the elderly woman said into her phone. “It’s embarrassing!”  

She was the first one to arrive at my reading at the Philadelphia Library, a week after the release of my third novel, and two weeks after the pinnacle of my writing life, when that novel was praised in both The New Yorker and The Washington Post, two articles that I had assumed would create something like buzz around me or my writing. It was 6:58, and the reading started at 7:00.  

Earlier that day, I had gotten messages from nine different friends, all saying they’d planned on attending but something had come up and they couldn’t make it. Each of their explanations was understandable—sick children, stuck at work, car troubles—but also it seemed cruel that every one of them would have an emergency on the same night. My wife was there, in the second row and I sent her a text from the front of the room: can we just leave? Will anyone notice? 

I did not leave. I had promised to do an event, and the library had made space for me, and even if only one person was in the audience, I had a responsibility to deliver. But in those next two minutes—as I kept hoping for, say, a bus full of book critics to break down outside—I was thinking grim thoughts about the creative life.

2.
I have been very fortunate as a writer: since 2010, I have had three books picked up by three different publishers. I have gotten coverage in major publications and been invited to do events in many bookstores along the east coast. I made enough money on my first book contract to buy a pretty nice couch.  

Before I ever published anything, I’d assumed that if I ever finished a book, there would be so much demand from family and friends alone that we’d have to go into a second printing before the release date. But I am here to tell you: most people in your family will never buy your book. Most of your friends won’t either.  

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A thing meant to be: The work of a book editor

In my senior year of college, having discovered that I generally liked working on other people’s prose a great deal more than my own, I confided to a professor that I was thinking of trying to become an editor. “Pretty thankless job,” she said. The truth is, despite its moments of frustration and overwhelm and failure, I have never found the job thankless.

More than anything, there is this: the sublime moment—and it never stops being sublime—when you get to attend, as beautiful, meaningful, and original work emerges in the world. When I gave birth to my daughters, one of my sisters-in-law said, “It is one of the rare experiences for which ‘miracle’ is not an overstatement.” It’s not an overstatement for the birth of art, either. What’s most miraculous is the “let there be” of it—the way a new and unique something yet again emerges from the wordless deep.

The sense is that the book is trying to communicate what it wants to become, how it wants to incarnate itself. Masha Gessen recently spoke of this process in an interview: “I know what my objectives are and I know what the topic is, and then I’m just reporting. I walk around for a bit, literally, bike and walk, and then suddenly, I get an idea of what it should be, what the structure is. I can’t tell you how I came up with this.” Peter Matthiessen thanked John Irving for his comments on the sprawling early draft of what would become his monumental Shadow Country back in “the book’s cretaceous days, when the whole was still inchoate, crude, and formless.” And when Matthiessen died, just before we at Riverhead had the precious honor of publishing his final book, Irving mourned the loss of “a friend I dared to show what I was up to, when I was still unsure of what it was.”

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India’s potential wealth of translation: Many languages, uncharted

India may have 22 officially recognized languages, but as many as 122 languages are spoken throughout the vast country.

And when the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) organized a debate on what this means for publishing today in India, it brought together four key experts in the factors impacting the industry there today:

  • Ravi DeeCee, CEO of DC Books, one of the leading book publishers in India in Malayalam; he also runs a chain of bookshops and is president of the Kerala Publishers and Booksellers Association
  • Subrahmanian Seshadri, an education and publishing consultant with a long career in the publishing industry as executive director of Dorling Kindersley, India, regional director of Oxford University Press, India; Seshadri also launched Lonely Planet for the Indian traveler
  • Tina Narang is the publisher of the children’s list of the one-year-old children’s imprint, HarperCollins India; prior to HarperCollins she was at Scholastic India
  • Esha Chatterjee, CEO of the family-run independent English-language publishing house, BEE Books; that house also provides content support for the International Kolkata Literature Festival and Chatterjee is one of the curators of the festival

FICCI’s senior director, Sumeet Gupta, was on-hand to moderate the session, “Translation: Trends and Opportunities,” held on the “middle morning” of London Book Fair earlier this month

As the program reflected, each of India’s languages has its own literature, and much of this literature remains available for translation into other Indian languages—and for foreign publishers to discover.

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Bright prospects for children’s publishing in India

One of my highlights of visiting India as a kid was to buy an obscenely large number of Tinkles and Amar Chitra Kathas. I was so accustomed to reading Western children’s literature that to me these books with stories (and stereotypes as I later discovered) rooted in India and free of stuffy British aristocracy felt like kindling a broken cultural connection.

Thankfully, kids today don’t have to make the same choices. Over the last two decades, children’s publishing in India has burgeoned, moving away from quasi-encyclopaedic tomes to works that break with the industry’s earlier conservatism and span a variety of genres. Part of this has been driven by Tara Books, Karadi Tales and Tulika Publishers, which focus solely on children’s books and helped build up an ecosystem of children’s publishing in the country.

More recently, even other publishers have seen the green (if not storytelling possibilities) of the children’s book segment. Two recent children’s book imprints are Talking Cub and HarperCollins Children’s Books, both of which were officially launched on Children’s Day last year. Their initial bets are entertainment-driven, not a bad choice in a market where educators and parents still largely expect children’s books to edify.

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Looking forward — 2018: When it comes to literature, mythology rules the roster, says Namita Gokhale

Publishing is an unpredictable business. Even so, one of the trends in the world of books that I discern in 2018 and coming years, is mythology. The space for books based on Indian mythology has grown immensely since the time I wrote the children’s Mahabharata and In Search of Sita (2009), and I foresee that it will grow even further in the years to come.

This is because in India, people relate a lot to myth; myths form a reference point for our contemporary lives.The success of books in this genre have led to so obscure figures from Indian mythology being brought into the limelight such as Urmila, Menaka, etc. My latest book is on Ghatotkach, and the response to it has been amazing. Reader or publisher fatigue with mythology space hasn’t started.

I truly think that the dumbing down of the publishing industry is finally being reversed, and this is a trend that will become more evident in the coming year. Until a few years ago, it was believed that the stupider the book was, the more readers you would get. Now, even the aspirational readers want to be challenged now by what they read. They are no longer satisfied with reading material simply because it is easy to assimilate; they want books that will stimulate their minds.

I also predict that speculative fiction, especially quality speculative fiction—a genre that not many Indians wrote in—will take off in a big way. Short, nano stories will also find their place, but provided the writers find the right format. Another trend that will slowly unfold over the years to come is that of enhanced fiction—audio books and the like, which bring into play the other sensory facilities such as voice, even smell, some say and are interactive. These serve to make reading a complete experience.

Many people in the publishing industry say that literary fiction has had its day—I agree with this assessment, but with some reservations. It is true that in many ways, literary fiction had become narcissistic and self-obsessed in recent years. Publishers also liked to play it safe; they need to be a little a less cute and a bit more adventurous.In contrast, genre fiction, especially crime fiction, has taken off in a big way in recent years. But even here, we need more of quality and perhaps, less of quantity.

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